The World Health Organisation is calling for added sugar to be banned from all baby foods, after an investigation found a large proportion contain ‘inappropriately high levels of sugar’.
It also said that fruit drinks and juices, confectionery and sweet snacks should not be marketed as suitable for infants and young children and that product labelling needs to be improved for total sugar and total fruit contents.
In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) wants to see a ban on misleading labelling and claims relating to sugar contents or product healthiness and says baby food should not be marketed as suitable for children under six months of age.
Dr João Breda, head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, said: “Foods for infants and young children are expected to comply with various established nutrition and compositional recommendations. Nonetheless, there are concerns that many products may still be too high in sugars.”
WHO still stands by its recommendation that children should be breastfed, exclusively, for the first six months.
Their nutrition experts fear added flavours and sugars could affect the development of children’s taste preferences by increasing their liking for sweeter foods.
In collaboration with WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), researchers from the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition and the School of Medicine have developed a draft Nutrient Profile Model for infants and young children aged from six to 36 months.
The model sets composition thresholds for baby food products, including fats, sugar and salt, in line with WHO guidance.
Leeds University carried out a study, which found on average, approximately one third of energy in baby foods surveyed came from total sugar.
Added sugars and foods high in free sugar, which can include sugar naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices, are often used in baby food to make them more palatable or to mask a sour or bitter taste.
Dr Diane Threapleton, School of Medicine at Leeds, said: “Many parents and caregivers might not realise that savoury or vegetable foods often still include sweet ingredients or that products claiming 'no added sugar' can still be extremely high in sugar. Manufacturers and retailers could play a more positive role in helping consumers make the healthy choice for their children.”
She added: “Our research highlights the challenges consumers face when selecting healthy baby food options. Packaging and product names are often misleading.”